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MARCH!

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Wind Ensemble
2021
10 min.

Alto Saxophone

Baritone Saxophone

Bass Clarinet

Bass Trombone

Bassoon

Clarinet

Double Bass

Euphonium

Flute

Horn

Live Electronics

Oboe

Piccolo

Pitched Percussion

Tenor Saxophone

Trombone

Trumpet

Tuba

Unpitched Percussion

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Program Notes
When I received a commission from the American Bandmasters Association I knew that I wanted to write a march. How do you not write one for an organization that John Philip Sousa belonged to? Besides who doesn’t love a good march? Their rhythmic drive and infectious melodies are irresistible. Even the word itself—“march”—is sharp and percussive. It’s like they were engineered to give us sonic sugar highs. Yet there is another side to the sonic pleasures of the march—since antiquity, marches have been recognized and principally employed to incite combatants gearing up for battle. At first it seemed strange to make this association. The migration of the march from martial processions that celebrated rulers and nations to an art-music genre performed in the auditoriums of educational institutions is usually dated to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The ardor it inspires has long been divorced from the promotion of grim acts of violence. At best, the march motivates decidedly non-lethal athletic competition. I realized, however, during my research and writing of this piece that this is only a partial description and that the march’s original functions have persisted. This is because the story of the march’s conversion to political neutrality isn’t one narrative but two. While it is true that the march retreated to the aesthetic realm in Europe and the United States, it was simultaneously advancing in the accompaniment of political and economic dominion abroad. Though often uncredited, it’s actually the march that introduces Western music to the non-Western world. It wasn’t orchestras performing the canon in concert halls, but military bands playing amongst cannons in colonial ports. For much of humanity, the reception of the march is impossible to uncouple from the imperial project it provided a soundtrack to. Moreover, we see this legacy of the march continue today only on a global scale. New marches are being written for elected officials, sovereigns, and the increasing number of despots and proto-autocrats to legitimize their stations, to provoke expansionist and nationalist fantasies, and to inflame their followers. With MARCH! I wanted to follow my connections to both legacies. The work is a combination of my devotion to a type of musical composition and my uncertain feelings towards its historical past and present. Fortunately, I had a precedent in the form of Dmitri Shostakovich’s March of the Soviet Militia (1970) to offer assistance in my efforts (listeners may detect a loose homage to his work in my opening). Like Shostakovich’s late work, my march is a dark parody. But where Shostakovich used the march form in excess to turn pomp into pomposity in “honor” of a brutal armed force, I sought to deconstruct my march. I wanted my crisp, uncomplicated anthems and quotations of unsettling North Korean patriotic melodies to be interrupted and broken apart by irreverent percussion, sputtering tempos and audio taken from the Korean demilitarized zone. My intention was to blunt the march’s aural seductions. I still wanted the bravado, but I wanted to make it insubstantial and alienating. Importantly, I depart from Shostakovich in my proximity to the brutal regime referenced. He lived in the midst of the Stalinist nightmare. I exist in a wounded, but still functioning liberal democracy far from the nightmare of the Kim dynasty. And while there is personal connection—my mother was orphaned during the Korean War—the selection of North Korean marches should ultimately be understood as representative of our contemporary moment. One where dictatorships and backsliding democracies embrace repression, ethno-nationalism, and brutality to thunderous cheers and fanfare.
Recording Notes
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